American Craftsman Style

By Scott Sidler • October 23, 2011

The Gamble House, Pasadena, CA Built 1908 by Greene & Greene (one of the first finest examples of the American Craftsman Style.

The American Craftsman style is the quintessential home style of America. More popular and more replicated than most others it is the sum of all that America is. It stands for simplicity, excellence and utility. Simplicity in design, excellence in craftsmanship and utility in its functionality.

Craftsman houses were inspired mainly by two California brothers – Charles Sumner Greene and Henry Mather Greene who practiced together in Pasadena from 1893 to 1914. In about 1903, they began to design simple Craftsman-type bungalows. By 1909, they had designed and executed several exceptional landmark examples.

Common architectural design features

 

    • Low-pitched roof lines, gabled or hipped roof
    • Deeply overhanging eaves
    • Exposed rafters or decorative brackets under eaves
    • Front porch beneath extension of the main roof
    • Tapered, square columns supporting the roof
    • 3-over-1 or 6-over-1 double-hung windows
    • Hand-crafted stone or woodwork
    • Mixed materials throughout structure

Influenced by the English Arts and Crafts Movement, an interest in oriental wooden architecture, and their early training in the manual arts appear to have lead the Greene’s to design and build these intricately detailed buildings. These and similar residences were given extensive publicity in some of the most popular magazines of the day, thus familiarizing the rest of the nation with the style.

As a result, a flood of pattern books appeared, offering plans for Craftsman bungalows; some even offered completely pre-cut packages of lumber and detailing to be assembled by local labor. Through these vehicles, the one-story Craftsman house quickly became the most popular and fashionable smaller house in the country.
-from A Field Guide to American Houses (McAlester)

The American Craftsman (commonly Bungalow) style was completely about the face stylistically from the preceding Victorian style which was characterized by its formality and overly ornate detailing.

Most Craftsman homes were one or one and a half-story homes of modest proportions. This style was a return to a simpler way of living that was more in touch with nature. Thus the extensive appearance of natural woods in construction and landscaping design that seamlessly transitions from garden to living space.

Craftsman Catalog
What a steal!

The evolving needs of contemporary life in the 1910s-1930s also necessitated a smaller and more user friendly kitchen with the new range of appliances available to homeowners for the first time. Bathrooms of the era were usually all white tiled floors (typically with mosaic borders) and tiled or wainscoted walls. Having an all white bathroom ensured that homeowners could keep their bathrooms clean of the newly discovered idea of germs (or so they thought!)

The American Craftsman was the darling of middle-class families and the dominate house style from 1905 until the 1920s. It quickly faded from favor by the early 1930s and many homes fell into disrepair over the following decades. Today, the Craftsman is one of the most often restored house styles in America due to its manageable size, family friendly design and prime location in first-rung neighborhoods near or surrounding the city centers across America.

Wondering what style your old house is?
Try our Old House Architectural Guide

 

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12 thoughts on “American Craftsman Style”

  1. Hi Scott,
    I have a 1908 “old Portland foursquare” with a sunroom that extends across the back of the house on the second floor. I was wondering if you could tell me what kind of flooring was traditionally used for these rooms? I was thinking tile of some kind. But whatever was there had been replaced with plywood and carpeting by a previous owner.
    Thanks for any info- and love this blog!

  2. I have purchased a home that was built in 1895 and very Victorian looking inside but looks like a craftsman outside. Because of the date would it be called a Victorian craftsman?

    1. Debra, victorian and craftsman are two very different styles. The craftsman was a reaction to the Victorian. There are some elements like varnished woodwork that intermingle but I doubt it is a combination of the two since they were so at odds stylistically.

  3. We are in the process of saving a Craftman and our biggest problem at this point is the front door. The prior family had kicked in the door and the left side by the handle needs to be replaced since a good bit of the wood is missing. My thought was to replace the board that runs from the top to the bottom…how do we get it apart?

    1. Karen, wood doors are usually dowel led or have a mortise and tenon joint which were sometimes glued. It can be taken apart sometimes but probably requires a skilled carpenter to make sure things don’t go wrong. It can be tough.

  4. I have a repair man suggesting sistering in board to the partially rotted rafter tails and adding a board of facia on the ends and guttering. Am I ruining my 1914 exposed rafter tail home?

    “The entry is marked by beveled glass and sidelights while exposed rafter tails and prominent lintels complete the well-preserved dwelling.”

    1. I wouldn’t apply fascia over exposed rafter tails. It completely changes the look of the house. Instead repair the damaged wood and make sure the drip edge is applied properly so that water isn’t running onto the rafters during rains.

  5. Hi!
    Am hoping to find some Los Angeles resource from you regarding a plate rail molding for a 1910 craftsman home. I would like a doug fir rail with 2 grooves in the top. It’s 1 & 3/4″ by 3″ by 10′. Obviously, I will need the molding underneath and the corbel pieces as well.

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